Friday, December 23, 2011

Predators Early Deficit Leads to Defeat at Dallas

The Nashville Predators, fresh off their amazing come from behind victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, ventured to the American Airlines Center to take on the Dallas Stars in their second game in two nights.

Once again, Pekka Rinne got the start for the Nashville Predators, while the surprisingly feel good story in the form of Richard Bachman started in net for the Stars.

It was going to be critical for the Predators to put their victory from the night before behind them and come out hard against the Stars. They opened the game skating hard and creating some chances, but were unable to find the net.

By contrast, the Stars capitalized on their chances. Vernon Fiddler, a former Predator, got the Stars on the board early as he gathered in a puck alone at the side of the net and beat Rinne with a shot over his shoulder to give the Stars a 1-0 lead at 9:25 of the first period.

Just 1:16 later, Loui Eriksson tallied from the right side of Rinne on a quick wrister from the right side that went under his arm to make it 2-0 at 10:41.

Steve Ott added a third goal for the Stars at 12:30 as he tipped a shot from the point by Trevor Daly and re-directed it past Rinne. Three goals on seven shots for the Stars, and Rinne's night was done. Anders Lindback came on in relief of Rinne at this point.

Although the Predators were skating well, their offense was not finishing and their defense had broken down on two of the three Stars goals. Once again, the troubling tendency to dig an early hole was plaguing the Predators.

The period ended with the Predators on the power play, but not showing much movement and creating opportunities for quality scoring chances. Oh yeah, they were still trailing 3-0.

The Predators out shot the Stars 17-8 in the period, but the Stars efficiency in the offensive zone was the difference in this contest so far. It was going to be up to the Predators to elevate their game and get back into the contest.

The Predators finally got on the board at 8:56 of the second period as Jerred Smithson was strong on the puck and got through a check from Fiddler on the boards and drove into the zone. He shot the puck at the Dallas net and Bachman gave up a rebound that was met by a crush of bodies from the Predators and the Stars. The puck was lost in the maze of legs and bodies and slowly trickled over the goal line. Blake Geoffrion and Matt Halischuk took whacks at the puck, and the goal was credited to Halischuk.

For the Predators, this goal was big, because up until that point their offense had been one shot and the puck was going back out of the zone. Finally, the Predators got forwards to the front of the net, and they were able to tally through their persistent in the dirty areas.

The Predators had a glorious chance to cut into the Stars lead at 8:54 of the second. Adam Burish was in the box for a knee on knee hit, and  on the ensuing power play Nicklas Grossman took a holding penalty to give the Predators a 5 on three power play.

Ryan Suter took the puck into the high slot and fed the puck to Marty Erat, who blistered a one timer past Bachman to make it 3-2 at  11:45 of the second period.

Mike Ribeiro scored a beautiful goal at 5:59 of the second period from a sharp angle. Ribeiro saw Lindback slide across the crease and waited until he dropped into the butterfly and lasered a shot into the short side top corner to make it 4-2. The goal was a goal scorer's goal and placed into the only area of the net that Lindback could not cover.

The second period ended with Jerred Smithson in the box for hooking and 1:04 of power play time left for the Stars to start the third period. Down by 2 goals, the Predators were going to have to bring their best game in the final 20 minutes to have a chance in this contest.

The second period saw the Predators continue to skate hard and get pucks on the net. They out shot the Stars 14-13 and 31-21 through the first 40 minutes. The outcome of this game would hinge on the Predators continuing to shoot the puck and get to the net for second chance scoring opportunities.

The potent Predators power play (yes, you read that correctly) struck again at 4:30 of the third period to make it 4-3. With Alex Goligoski in the box for delay of game, Colin Wilson sped drove down the right side of the slot a slipped a nice pass to David Legwand, who hammered the puck home to cut the Predators deficit to one goal.

Momentum to the Predators and a chance to seize control.

Not so fast.

Just 30 seconds later, Jamie Benn beat Mike Fisher in the low slot and took a great feed from behind the net by Loui Erikkson to bang home a back breaking goal for the Stars and put them up by 2 goals again.

The Stars used the Benn goal to propel themselves to a decided territorial advantage for the majority of the third period. The Predators spent much of the third chasing the Stars in their own zone and were not able to muster much in the way of an offensive thrust.

Michael Ryder iced the game for the Stars at 17:53 with an empty net goal to make it 6-3, which was the final score of the game.

I cannot fault the effort of the Predators. They skated hard and fired the puck at the net. They out shot the Stars 37-29 and showed good compete.

I can fault the annoying tendency of this team to continue to fall into an early hole and having to spend lots of time and energy trying to dig themselves out of it. Tonight, the Predators found out that the Dallas Stars are not the Columbus Blue Jackets, and falling into a deep deficit against a quality opponent almost always spells defeat.

The Predators now have the Christmas break off with Detroit coming to town Monday. It is going to be imperative that this team tighten up its defense and not hang their goalies out to dry. They are going to have to understand that an early game deficit is not a winning formula.

A better defensive showing from the second and third D pairing, a more consistent effort for the entire game, and avoiding the early game hole are critical for the team's success going forward.

I hope Santa is listening.

My three stars:

1. Loui Eriksson

2. Richard Bachman

3. Marty Erat


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